Buy Before You Fly & the Politics of Risk Reduction (II)
February 12, 2001
[Ref 1] Elaine M. Grossman, "Pentagon Test Director Found 177 Osprey Failures Endangered Safety," Inside Defense.com, February 8, 2001 [Reprinted with permission].
[Ref 2] "Amos', McCorkle's E-mails about Osprey," Marine Corps Times 12 February 2001. Excerpts attached.
[Ref 3] Brian Mitchell, "Troubled Osprey Plane Takes Flak Over Questions of Safety, Mission," Investor's Business Daily, February 9, 2001 [Reprinted with permission].
[Ref 4] Tim Weiner, "Pentagon-Congress Battle Is Hallmark Of Doomed Craft's Past," New York Times, April 11, 2000, Pg. 1 Excerpts attached.
Separate Attachments in Adobe Acrobat Format [Ref 5] "Presentation to the V-22 Blue Ribbon Panel," General Accounting Office (GAO), January 12, 2001.
The Marine Corps V-22 tilt-rotor transport has become a case study in what is wrong with the purchasing practices of the military - industrial - congressional complex. The following op-ed piece, written by VADM John J. Shanahan (USN Ret) and me explains why.
References 1-4 provide additional supporting material.
Reference 5 is a copy of the GAO's Presentation to the V-22 Blue Ribbon Panel convened after the fatal crash last December.
The final operational test report: The Combined Operational Test & Evaluation And Live Fire Test & Evaluation Report On The V-22 Osprey, was submitted to Congress in November 2000 by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. Interested readers can download it from http://www.dote.osd.mil/reports/V-22.pdf.
Great Idea! Buy First, Then Find Out If It Flies
Franklin C. Spinney and John J. Shanahan
Since last April, the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport has chalked up a devastating record: Two crashes, 23 dead Marines, numerous waivers of required tests, and allegations of lying by senior officers. The controversial helicopter-airplane may not fly right, but it has performed one function beautifully: It has delivered a loud wake-up call about what's wrong with Pentagon purchasing practices.
Imagine buying a car before it was road-tested. You wouldn't do it, would you? Yet the Pentagon routinely does the equivalent in ordering up new weapons systems and military hardware. Against all common sense, it takes a misguided "buy before you fly" approach that not only makes large parts of the defense budget spin out of control, but also leads to dangerous defects in weapons and machinery. As Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld undertakes a top-to-bottom management review of the military, one of the first things he should consider doing is adopting a sensible purchasing rule: "Fly before you buy"—not the other way around.
Though it's hardly the first disaster to result from the Pentagon procurement system, the Osprey serves as an instructional guide to the problems inherent in it. At the heart of the Osprey debacle is an entrenched, politically motivated policy known as "concurrent engineering and manufacturing development." It authorizes contractors to begin investing in production lines and supplier networks while they are just starting to design a new weapon or equipment. To make matters worse, it is now routine to begin low-rate production of hardware before testing under field conditions even commences. The Osprey, which is designed with movable rotors that tilt upward to allow it to take off and land like a helicopter, but tilt forward during flight to produce the speed of a conventional plane, began low-rate production in 1997. Operational testing was not completed until last November, nearly four years later.
The buy before you fly approach allows defense contractors to build a political safety net for their work quickly by spreading jobs and subcontracts to congressional districts throughout the United States. In the case of the Osprey, this has so far meant 15,000 jobs in 43 states, with the potential to go to 23,000 at full-rate production.
By involving Congress early, the art of politics thus displaces the science of engineering as the determining factor in weapons-buying decisions. And this politicized approach—call it political engineering—vastly increases the economic risk of huge cost overruns in development and the risk to human life of operational defects in the finished product.
This is in stark contrast to commercial practices. Private firms do not risk their own money by investing in production lines before a cutting-edge technology is designed. They minimize risks by designing, testing and redesigning prototypes until a functional design is found. This works out the bugs before greater resources are committed to production. Such a sequential development strategy reduces economic and technical risks by making it easier to cancel a design effort if it proves unworkable.
The Osprey test report issued in November revealed a host of problems with the craft. The Marines granted 19 waivers to required tests because known deficiencies could not be corrected in time. The tests also identified two extremely dangerous aerodynamic defects—the craft does not have the ability to autorotate, or use its rotors to glide without power; and, under certain conditions, one or the other of its rotors may stall, leading to a sudden loss of control. While the report concluded that the V-22 was "effective," it also said it was "not operationally suitable" and called for more testing. But in January, the Pentagon's top tester revealed new details, including 177 failures of "flight-critical subsystems." [see Ref 1 & Ref 2 below and Ref 5 and http://www.dote.osd.mil/reports/V-22.pdf .]
The Osprey has been problematic from the outset. It first went into concurrent development in 1986. Three years later, then-Defense Secretary Richard Cheney tried to cancel the program, in part because of its high cost, but Congress balked. Over the next four years, Cheney waged a losing battle against a coalition of the Marine Corps; the Osprey's contractors, Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.; a nationwide collection of subcontractors; and an alliance of interested members of Congress, led by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), whose district includes Boeing's helicopter division.
This military-industrial-congressional complex kept the V-22 program aloft during the early 1990s, even as problems continued to dog it. In 1994, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the Osprey's development was off-schedule, it was not performing as anticipated and its costs were rising. The Pentagon's own inspector general expressed an additional concern, saying the V-22 had proceeded into development without proper authorization or formal review. In 1997—the year the Osprey entered into production—the GAO weighed in again, noting that the craft's costs were likely to grow even more and that it might not perform as required. Still, the Pentagon pressed ahead.
On April 11, 2000, just days after an Osprey crashed in Arizona, killing 19 Marines, Weldon recounted his successful struggle to keep the Osprey program going. "We had a coalition that was broad and deep," he said. "We had the ex-Marines in Congress. We brought in the retired Marine reserve officers' association. I brought in the United Auto Workers and the civil aviation people." [See Ref 4]
Why does the Pentagon turn the scientific engineering process on its head? Because adopting a "buy before you fly" strategy and building a political safety net at the front end of a hardware development program reduces the political risk to those with the greatest stakes in the equipment. This means the Defense Department officials whose future promotions, status and post-retirement jobs are tied to the program; the network of contractors who design and build the system; the congressmen whose districts benefit from the dollars, jobs and profits flowing to the contractors; and lobbyists and others who gain from the program's continuation.
Seeking to protect the interests of these various parties, the Pentagon's procurement policies become laced with extensive conflicts of interest. Anyone who doubts the corrupting power of these conflicts should consider how they have enmeshed the Marine Corps in a web of deceit.
In the case of the V-22, senior Marine officers have put the interests of the contractor ahead of the interests of the Corps. They sold out fellow Marines to ensure that the V-22 would be approved for full-rate production, even though the aircraft is dangerous to fly, has unresolved design problems, has been incompletely tested, and has failed to meet many of its repair and maintenance requirements.
The commander of the first Osprey squadron was taped ordering his maintenance crews to lie about the V-22's mission capable rates in the interests of obtaining approval for full-rate production. Last Nov. 21, Marine Brig. Gen. James Amos e-mailed a "close hold" memo to Lt. Gen. Frederick McCorkle, stating his fear that a report of low mission capable rates of 26.7 percent for early November "isn't going to help" in regard to the upcoming production decision. Significantly, the only non-Marines on the address list for the memo were the president of Bell Textron and a vice president of Boeing. [see Ref 2] Then, on Dec. 1, during a news conference convened expressly to explain why the V-22 was ready for full-rate production, Amos claimed that its mission capable rate for the first 13 days of November had been 73.2 percent.
The decision to put the V-22 into full production is now on indefinite hold, but the flawed policy of "buy before you fly" remains intact. In fact, the Air Force is now pushing Rumsfeld to approve low-rate production of the F-22 fighter. But after spending almost $20 billion, five Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter aircraft have flown fewer than 390 times for a total of about 860 hours. (Most aircraft have thousands of hours of flight testing before going into production.) The F-22's design, especially its integrated avionics system, is still in a state of flux, yet the Air Force and contractor Lockheed Martin insist it is ready for low-rate production.
With contracts creating jobs in at least 44 states and Puerto Rico, Congress is biased to agree. Congress said last year the F-22 could begin low-rate production if it satisfied certain "exit" criteria, including requirements that it make its first flight carrying the advanced avionics (the criteria do not specify that the avionics must work), begin flight tests to determine the effectiveness of its stealth features and initiate fatigue testing.
On Feb. 5, Lockheed Martin announced it had successfully met these criteria. But "success" does not mean the F-22 completed the tests with passing grades; it only means it began these tests in accordance with the language of the law. Whether or not the aircraft will pass them remains an open question.
The V-22 and the F-22 are just two examples of the kind of political engineering that contributes to the explosive growth of the Pentagon budget. It's time to introduce common business sense and integrity to the weapons engineering process. If the new administration is serious about bringing costs under control while fielding weapons and equipment that work, defense officials can begin by instituting an independent "fly before you buy" strategy. They can put testing in the hands of a neutral agency headed by a director appointed for a fixed term and insulated from the politics that have for too long led to a needless waste of money and an excessive risk to the lives of our men and women in uniform.
Franklin Spinney is a civilian weapons engineer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Retired Navy Vice Admiral John J. Shanahan heads the Military Advisory Panel of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. The views expressed in this article are their own.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]
[Reprinted by Permission of Inside Washington Publishers: This article may not be reproduced or redistributed, in part or in whole, without express permission of the publisher. Copyright 2000, Inside Washington Publishers.]
Pentagon Test Director Found 177 Osprey Failures Endangered Safety
Elaine M. Grossman
Philip Coyle, until late last month the Pentagon's top tester, last year identified 177 failures of "flight-critical subsystems" in the Marine Corps V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that potentially endangered safety, according to a briefing obtained by Inside the Pentagon.
The safety-related failures were among a total of 723 malfunctions in critical aircraft components Coyle found during an eight-month operational evaluation period that ended last July for the hybrid rotorcraft, which the Corps views as critical for ferrying large numbers of Marines quickly in and out of a battle area.
The test report for the V-22's OPEVAL was released last November, when it appeared the program would shortly be approved for full-rate production. But those plans were put on hold after a Dec. 11 crash in North Carolina, which Marine Corps officials suspect was due to a failure of the aircraft's hydraulics system and problems with its flight software. With two fatal crashes last year alone, then-Defense Secretary William Cohen created a "Blue Ribbon Panel" to review the Osprey program and recommend how to proceed.
It was before this panel that Coyle presented the briefing that contains new details about safety concerns that the former director of operational test and evaluation had not included in his main report on OPEVAL.
Among the flight-critical subsystem failures that Coyle said had safety implications were hydraulics, fuel and oil leaks—all of which could be dangerous fire hazards to an aircraft, according to the Jan. 12 briefing. The test director found a failure in the flight control computers and abrasions in data lines and clamps, either of which could have a "potential effect on critical flight software," the document states. A rudder actuator failed, reducing a pilot's ability to control the aircraft.
Other examples of the 177 safety-related failures include a finding that the "lower crew door will not open after aircraft goes weight-on-wheels," forcing the pilot to "shut down [the] aircraft and restart in order to disengage door lock pin," which "inhibits emergency egress."
According to testing experts, the level of safety-related failures found in the Osprey well exceeds those in other military platforms as they near production.
The briefing also details waivers the Marine Corps received that allowed Osprey program officials to skip 19 testing requirements during the evaluation period; some have yet to be completed six months after OPEVAL ended. The temporary reprieves on specific types of tests were issued because the aircraft ostensibly could not pass those tests when OPEVAL began.
Some of these waivers affected safety-related requirements, while others are related to the Osprey's combat requirements. Perhaps the most serious of the test waivers affected both the aircraft's safety and its combat effectiveness. Those included a waiver for tests of the V-22's performance in "icing conditions" and another for flight tests of the aircraft's air combat maneuvering capabilities.
Although Coyle ultimately deemed the V-22 "operationally effective," his briefing to the Blue Ribbon Panel made clear he retains some "areas of concern" in this regard. "While analysis indicates the MV-22 meets range and [key performance parameters], possible weight increases will reduce those ranges," the document states.
Testing also indicated that the Osprey offers less capability on a cold day than on a hot one. While the V-22 meets operational requirements for carrying loads at high altitude on hot days, "it has reduced load capacity in cold weather," states the briefing. There is a sharp "fall-off" in the rotorcraft's carrying capacity at temperatures below -10 degrees Centigrade, Coyle told the panel.
Last year, Coyle judged the program "not operationally suitable," which pertains to problems the test director found in the safety and reliability of the aircraft, as well as the ability to maintain it. The latter issue sprang to national attention last month when the Marine Corps released an anonymous letter from a V-22 worker alleging his commanding officer had lied in maintenance records to make the aircraft look better.
Even before that allegation surfaced, the Marine Corps found itself defending the Osprey against Coyle's concerns that the aircraft, if produced, would pose an undue amount of potentially serious maintenance problems. Asked at a Nov. 30, 2000, press conference if the V-22 would always prove to be a "high-maintenance" aircraft, Brig. Gen. James Amos, a top Marine aviation official, replied, "Absolutely not."
He also dismissed the notion that the Osprey is riskier to fly because of maintenance issues, saying, "It absolutely is not." Amos said the hours spent on maintenance for the nine aircraft at a training squadron at New River, NC—just four of which went through OPEVAL—is on the high side now because maintenance workers are new to the aircraft. He said their ability to fix problems quickly will improve over time.
And, Amos said, quality assurance at the Bell-Boeing contractor team will also improve as the manufacturer works out kinks in production.
Some others are less confident, noting that the V-22—an aircraft that the Marine Corps has said would be cheaper and easier to maintain than the aircraft it replaces—has not proven itself as it stands at the cusp of full production. Some aircraft experts note that after four years of initial production, the V-22 parts Coyle found faulty were largely low-technology items, which might suggest fundamental problems in the manufacturing process.
"In my opinion, this is not ready for low-rate production, let alone full production," Pentagon tactical air analyst Franklin Spinney told InsideDefense.com on Feb. 8.
-- Elaine M. Grossman
[Note: The following Marine Corps Times article lays out the email exchanges between BG AMOS and LTG McCorkle. Note that each email contains the addresses of John Murphey and Patrick Finneran (marked in bold). For the record, Finneran is vice president and general manager of Navy and Marine Corps programs for The Boeing Co., and Murphey is president of Bell Helicopter Textron]
Marine Corps Times
Amos', McCorkle's E-mails about Osprey
MC and FMC stand for "mission capable" and "full mission capable"; FRP is "full-rate production"; NALCOMIS is the Naval Aviation Logistics Command Management Information System; and AIRLANT is Naval Air Forces Atlantic. "Assassin" is McCorkle's call sign as a pilot; "Tamer" is Amos' call sign; and "Tango" is Brig. Gen. Thomas Moore.
From: Amos BGen James F
Sir...this needs to be close-held. Spoke to Tango at the end of the day yesterday and here are the numbers that 204 is running for MC and FMC rates for the month of November...remember that their Maint Dept is on the "Improved NALCOMIS" which you can't cheat on. I am told that you can expect about a 20-30% drop in MC and FMC rates as a result of the I-NALCOMIS. That said ... this is still a bad story.
Had hoped to be able to use some recent numbers next month when you meet with Dr Buchanan for his Milestone III/FRP decision in December ... this isn't going to help. MC - 26.7% FMC - 7.9%
Very respectfully & Semper Fidelis
From: McCorkle LtGen Frederick
I DON'T FOR THE LIFE OF ME KNOW WHERE THE BREAKDOWN IS ... I THOUGHT THAT THEY WERE FLYING "EVERYTHING" NOW ... IN ANY EVENT ... THIS INFO WILL GET OUT SOONER OR LATER ... MY QUESTION WOULD BE AS TO "WHY" WE PUT THE MV-22 ON IMPROVED NALCOMIS AS A BRAND NEW ACFT TRYING TO GET OFF THE GROUND ... ANOTHER ROCKET SCIENTIST DECISION ... NO DOUBT ...
SEMPER FI, ASSASSIN
From: Amos BGen James F
Subject: RE: V22 MC/FMC NUMBERS!!!
Sir...not sure who made that decision but don't believe that anyone on our side of the fence got a vote in it ... likely an AIRLANT decision.
Very respectfully Tamer
"Troubled Osprey Plane Takes Flak Over Questions of Safety,
[Reprinted with Permission]
Three times as defense secretary, Dick Cheney killed the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport. Three times the Osprey rose like a phoenix to fly again, thanks to Congress.
But now Cheney is vice president, and the Osprey is looking more and more like a $40 million turkey.
Fans fear it might fall victim to hard budget choices. Critics question its need, given the new president's "humble" foreign policy. Some even doubt its air-worthiness.
The Osprey suffered its third fatal crash in December. Four Marines died. A faulty hydraulic system might have been to blame.
The crash came just as the Navy was to decide whether to begin full-rate production. Three weeks before, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, Philip Coyle, had rated the Osprey "operationally effective" but "not operationally suitable."
Then in January, the commander of the Marines' only Osprey squadron was accused of telling his men to lie about the craft's maintenance record. The Marine Corps is counting on the Osprey to replace all its aging medium-lift helicopters. It's also staking its future on projecting power well inland from ships safely out at sea.
For that, the Osprey is key.
"The military application is beyond question: twice as fast, three times the payload, five times the range of any comparable helicopter," Marine Corps Commandant James L. Jones told PBS viewers last month. But doubts remain about the system's safety and utility.
The Osprey is a complex machine, hard to maintain and not yet as reliable as a transport should be. That's why Coyle gave it a thumbs-down. When something does go wrong, the consequences can be catastrophic. The Osprey can't very well glide like a plane or auto-rotate like a helicopter without power. Descending too fast can cause it to lose lift and fall. That's what's thought to have happened last April, in a crash that killed 19 Marines.
Helicopters have the same problem, called a "vortex ring state." But they can often escape by powering forward. The Osprey can't very well do that because a vortex ring state may upset the balance between its rotors, causing it to roll out of control.
"You flip over real fast," said a Pentagon analyst. "Then you go into a vertical dive, over the top and down. And it can happen in less than a second."
The solution is to avoid descending too fast. That's what Osprey pilots are now taught to do.
"The vortex ring state only happens if you descend at a certain velocity. What you do is, you don't descend at that velocity," said Peretz Friedmann, professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan.
The Navy doesn't have exact comparisons of safety rates for the Osprey. If you count mishaps and flight hours, the Osprey is about as safe as a high-performance jet fighter, but much less safe than other transports. The Osprey has suffered two mishaps in its first 2,500 flight hours since entering low-rate production. The F/A-18 Hornet fighter/bomber suffered three in its first 4,700 hours.
By contrast, the CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters both suffered only one mishap in their first 9,000 hours. The Osprey would replace them both. Friedmann says the high mishap rate is not unusual for a major advance in aviation and shouldn't be crippling. After all, the first jet airliner, the DeHavilland Comet, suffered four fatal crashes in its first two years of civilian service. But once its fatal flaws were corrected, it kept flying for decades.
"Yes, (the Osprey) is a very complex machine, but no, we don't have any indication yet that tilt-rotor technology is flawed," said Rhett Flatter, executive director of the American Helicopter Society, which includes the Osprey's makers, Bell Helicopter and Boeing, as corporate members. Safety aside, there's still the question of need.
The Osprey's speed is great for long-range raids - quick in, quick out. But its light load makes it a costly workhorse for routine transport and large-scale invasions. The CH-53E Super Stallion can carry twice as much. The improved CH-53X, with Osprey engines, will carry much more. Even so, the Marines see the Osprey as the key to the Corps' future. Since the 1920s, Marines' main mission has been to seize forward bases by amphibious assault. That's getting harder every day with advances in anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship mines and missiles, coastal patrol boats and diesel subs. Bases either aren't available or can't be seized except at great risk.
The Osprey is supposed to allow the Marines to operate on land without a large land base or a fleet just off shore. The new concept is called "operational maneuver from the sea."
The jury still out on the concept. Critics doubt the Marines will be able to field much more than a small light infantry force without seizing a seaport, beachhead, or airfield. Some also question whether the U.S. will need or want to "project power" in the future the way the Marines see themselves doing.
"There's been some concern (in Congress) that perhaps we're putting the procurement cart before the strategy horse - that we're buying things and then, after we buy large numbers of them, we're going to try to figure out how to use them," said Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
With Osprey contracts spread across 40 states, the phoenix is almost certain to rise again. But the onus is on the Marine Corps to defend its planned buy all 360 Ospreys.
"We still will have to project some kind of power," said Mackubin Owens, Marine veteran and professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College. "We won't have to do it the way the Clinton administration did it, which is everywhere, but if you're going to do any of it, you're going to need the capability."
New York Times
Pentagon-Congress Battle Is Hallmark Of Doomed Craft's Past
By Tim Weiner
WASHINGTON, April 10—
The V-22 Osprey is a classic case of a military program that would not be stopped.
In 1992, Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon would not spend $790 million authorized by Congress to build three test aircraft. "The V-22 cannot be built to meet the requirements specified," Mr. O'Keefe said. "It's an engineering impossibility."
But Congress again defied the Defense Department, proclaiming the aircraft to be a potential technological wonder before tests had validated that claim.
"The technology was a revolutionary concept that lit the imagination of lawmakers, and the contractors fueled that fire," Mr. O'Keefe said in an interview today.
Marine commanders wanted it badly. They had developed no other alternative to replace the Vietnam-era Chinook helicopter
Representative Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican and the staunchest advocate of the V-22, today dismissed criticism of the aircraft with a barnyard epithet.
"Those who would come out now and question the program, they don't know what they're talking about," Mr. Weldon said in an interview. "If there is a technological problem, which I highly doubt, let's look at that."
It has been in development for 18 years; its cost has grown dramatically over time, partially due to the long fight over moving the aircraft from the drawing board to the assembly line. Government agencies outside the Pentagon place the cost today as high as $60 million apiece. That raises doubts about its commercial potential.
Five have been delivered to the Marines. Two test aircraft crashed; one of those accidents, in 1992, killed seven men.
"We're confident in the program because of the amount of testing we've done and the number of hours we've flown it," said Maj. Dave LaPan, a Marine Corps spokesman. "We've really put this aircraft through its paces."
In 1994, the G.A.O. reported that the aircraft's major elements "remain inadequate or untested."
That year, the Pentagon's inspector general said the aircraft had gone into development "without proper authorization" and without "formal review," the result, in part, of "highly unusual political factors."
In 1997, the Pentagon said the aircraft's prototypes could not yet carry passengers or hover over unprepared landing zones. The Defense Department also criticized the tests the aircraft was put through as "extremely artificial."
In 1998, the accounting office concluded that "after 15 years of development effort, the V-22 design has not been stabilized."
The aircraft's prime contractors, the Boeing Company's helicopter division, in Ridley Park, Pa., and Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth, carpeted Congress with data showing that the V-22 would work wonders—and that parts of it would be built in 40 states.